Recently I spent Shabbat in the city of Sarcelles, about ten miles north of Paris. Out of a population of 60,000 there are some 15,000 Jews living there.
Two years ago, a pro-Palestinian protest against the Israeli operation in Gaza turned into an anti-Semitic riot in the downtown area, right by the main synagogue. Hundreds of rioters attacked, looted, and sowed fear. You can see some of the worst parts of the violence here.
We sat with Sarcelles mayor Francois Pupponi (who succeeded Dominique Strauss-Kahn) and the chief rabbi of the city, Rabbi Laurent Beros. Outside were armed French soldiers, protecting us. In fact, everywhere we went we saw heightened security procedures – many of which were funded by our UJA Campaign support and our Emergency Fund support for our partner agency on the ground, the Jewish Agency for Israel.
It’s the highest level of anti-Semitism in France since the Second World War, Francois said. There’s a battle for the soul and future of France right there in Sarcelles. As a non-Jew, the mayor is a passionate and strong supporter of Israel and his Jewish neighbors. He wants the Jews to stay: if you leave, he says, you abandon our defense of France and its values.
The Jewish community has very strong relations with the mayor, who joined us, wearing a kippa, for Shabbat lunch in the synagogue. The police and army protection is noticeable, the cooperation is high. But the identity crisis of the Jews here is also high. The pull to Israel, the fears for the future, and the overall feeling of uncertainty are all prominent. Should they stay or should they go? If they stay, will we see a further retreat of Jewish communities into smaller and more scared tribal enclaves?
And if all the strong, capable, wealthier Jews of Sarcelles leave and make Aliyah… who will protect the most vulnerable who remain behind?
We will. Not because we want to. But because we’re the only ones who, time and again, step up to save the Jewish People. That’s what Jewish Federations do. That’s why I spent Shabbat in Sarcelles.
We mourn the victims of terror in Nice and send our prayers for healing to their families, and to those wounded. May all those suffering in France and around the world find comfort and strength. And let’s pray for a peaceful and quiet weekend.
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